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We previewed the SEC west last week, offering early advice on where win total value existed before the markets adjusted. For those new to betting college football season win totals, understand the posted price applies only to the regular season (no bowls or conference championships) and all 12 games are required for action. For every methodology oddsmakers use to create their opening lines, each handicapper you talk to tackles the challenge of identifying value differently. Comprehensive schedule breakdowns, individual win probabilities, and on field matchups just to name a few all go into the equation before a bettor walks to the window to place a wager. The name of the game is cashing a ticket…by any means necessary.
Florida 8 U -140 (Risk $1.40 to win $1.00)
Ah yes the Florida Gators, those same Gators that bore the brunt of everyone’s jokes after losing to Georgia Southern outright as 4 touchdown favorites. Rest assured the football outlook in Gainesville is much brighter in 2014 than a season ago yet we still won’t see a return to the heights achieved in 2012. No bettor loves Will Muschamp as a head coach (unless they’re fading him); this isn’t a secret and when dealing with a high win total it gives me cause for pause in an elite conference. Offensively UF will be improved with a healthy Jeff Driskel back under center. There are key returnees on the offensive line and opening the season with 3 “exhibition” games before a trip to Alabama gives Florida a de-facto preseason before encountering the big boys. Aside from the 3 cupcakes to start the year, the schedule does Florida no favors with games vs Alabama, Florida St, Georgia, South Carolina, & LSU looming. If the Gators get swept in that quintet they’d already be staring down the barrel of a 7-5 best case scenario. By no means will forecasting their record be this straightforward since I do think a split in home games against South Carolina and LSU is probable. However, the ceiling for Florida feels like 8-4 meaning there’s no reason to invest. I’d actually be inclined to go under 8 but have minimal interest paying .40 cents on the dollar to do so.
Georgia 9 O -125 (Risk $1.25 to win $1.00)
There’s a good chance I’ll take heat for this proclamation: DON’T SLEEP ON THE GEORGIA BULLDOGS. I know the offense needs continuity along the offensive meaning pressure is on to gel quickly. Fortunately some of that burden should be softened by a stable of thoroughbreds pounding the rock opening up the passing game for Hutson Mason. It’s probably safe to assume this roster won’t be as racked with injuries as a year ago since luck elements tend to even out over the years. Saying UGA’s defense last season was a trainwreck might be an understatement; expect marked improvements this year with more experienced personnel in key positions. Quick look at their schedule tells us a few things: they won’t be a dog of more than 5 points anywhere which includes a road date at South Carolina and revenge tilt against Auburn. I believe the Dawgs will sweep their home schedule (yes, including that potential upset of Auburn) meaning they need to go 3-2 in their road/neutral tilts to cash a ticket. I won’t hesitate to call this one of my stronger win totals within the conference, at least while we sit here in June.
Kentucky 3.5 O-150 (Risk $1.50 to win $1.00)
The fact that Kentucky even gets a win total posted in Las Vegas should be credited to a talented oddsmaker at Cantor who bleeds Big Blue. Clay Travis made himself rich (not quite Miss USA Nevada rich) going under UK’s win totals each of the last 2 seasons. Will he look to hit the trifecta this year? Only time will tell… I find this opening number curious for a few reasons if you believe UK has 3 very winnable non-conference home games against UT Martin, Ohio, and ULM right off the bat. That would mean they need to steal a single win from the trio of games against Vanderbilt, Mississippi St, or Tennessee. I do want to have faith in Mark Stoops, no I really do, but with a brand new o-line, overhauled defense, and more questions than answers I just couldn’t get myself to go over the total here, especially laying -150.
Missouri 8 O -130 (Risk $1.30 to win $1.00)
The bane of my existence last season: the ATM machine known as the Missouri Tigers. Shame on me for not adjusting power ratings accordingly that reflected their improbable season. They do say all good things must end and part of Mizzou’s success came from an abnormally high +16 turnover margin. There was a ton lost on both sides of the ball including starting QB James Franklin, stud WR Dorial Green-Beckham, and SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam. I don’t feel the recruiting pipelines for Gary Pinkel are anywhere close to where they need to be for year in year out competitive balance within the league. Missouri should start the year 4-0 in the non-conference (be careful of the trip to Toledo) before things get interesting in late September at Columbia vs Cocky. Mizzou will open as double digit favorites in 3 conference games against Vandy, Kentucky, & Tennessee but will be dogs in at least 3 other contests. This number actually seems spot on for me projecting losses against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, & Texas A&M. Sometimes it’s just better to pass than flip coins for winners.
South Carolina 9.5 O -125 (Risk $1.25 to win $1.00)
Is this the year that South Carolina finally flirts with a trip to the national championship? Their odds to win the league at 5-2 say a SEC title should be the primary goal for the Ole Ball Coach. Gone is their starting Qb and #1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney but back is a talented offensive line and heaps of defensive talent. The schedule makers did this team no favors with 6 straight games out of the gate including an opener the first 1st Thursday of the year against Texas A&M. There is 1 game on Cocky’s schedule where they’ll assuredly have to embrace the underdog role in Mid-October at Jordan Hare. Aside from that trip to Auburn, a late November date with Florida projects real close to PK if both teams live up to preseason expectations. Full analysis of this schedule says 10-2 is a plausible outcome however oddsmakers realize such forcing bettors into laying a price to achieve such a goal. I’m higher on Georgia in the east than most but understand the optimism swirling around South Carolina’s ability to breathe down their neck. UGA and USC are the class of the east…both should achieve double digit wins totals.
Tennessee 5 O -120 (Risk $1.20 to win $1.00)
This is where I get conflicted: on field talent says 2014 will 100% be a struggle while coaching impact indicates a team that should take a step forward from last year. However, the schedule reigns supreme and isn’t conducive to new o-line personnel, new qb, massive defensive changes, and increased expectations. I applaud Coach Jones for scheduling non-conference games against Utah St and Oklahoma…both will be losses sending UT to their bye week with a 1-2 record. In regards to conference games the 2 winnable contests come in the form of a home date vs. Kentucky and a road trip to Vanderbilt. Aside from those clashes, there needs to be a major upset somewhere on the docket after drawing difficult cross over games against Ole Miss and Alabama out of the West. Knowing the Vols need to get 6 wins and achieve postseason inclusion to beat me I’ll roll the dice with a sub-par campaign in Knoxville.
Vanderbilt 6 O +100 (Risk $1.00 to win $1.00)
You don’t replace a Gary Bertier…you also don’t replace James Franklin or a programming changing talent in Jordan Matthews without missing a beat. Vandy has made major strides, becoming a thorn in the side of SEC foes rather than assuming role of perennial doormat. With win totals I harp on schedule analysis and quite frankly the Dores could field a B team and go 4-0 vs their non conference schedule. However life in the SEC will not be kind with home dates against Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Florida meaning underdog status in each of them. On paper, games against Tennessee and Kentucky appear winnable and will be essential not only to exceed Vegas win total expectations but also to get the ‘Dores back to the postseason. I know they’ve found ways to be giant killers before but I’m skeptical they can do it again this year. Coaching transitions are tough…and for the first time in a few years I think Vandy falls short and misses the postseason.